An easy two-hour ride from Columbia, Hickory Nut Gorge in North Carolina is home to Lake Lure and Chimney Rock Village. My daughter, Gabi, and I set out for a mother-daughter getaway on a beautiful weekend filled with dramatic scenery, friendly locals, and an abundance of great food, including fine dining and down-home comfort fare.
Where to Stay
The charming 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa sits next to Lake Lure, offering magnificent views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. We took a peek on the second floor to see where actor Patrick Swayze stayed when he was on location to film Dirty Dancing. No mention of the Lake Lure Inn and Spa would be complete without a nod to its more non-traditional guests, such as Lucius Morse, a Chicago physician who founded the community in the 1900s because he needed a palliative climate in which to recover from tuberculosis. He built the hotel in the 1927 and, according to local lore, still frequently returns to ignite the fireplace in the great room.
Where to Dine
Upon our arrival, we headed out for lunch at The Old Rock Café. This riverside dining offers such comfort foods as burgers, salads, sandwiches, and the house-made apple brown Betty for dessert.
Dinner our first night was at Legends at Rumbling Bald Resort. We started with the house chips — a delicious concoction of house-made chips with blue cheese, bacon, green onions, and a balsamic glaze drizzle. We watched the sun go down over the lake and feasted on roasted spaghetti squash with salmon. We made sure to save room for the blueberry pancake torte, a version of cake made with pancake batter with maple syrup infused icing and topped with whipped cream, fresh blueberries, powdered sugar, and a caramel drizzle. Legends at Rumbling Bald Resort is a sort of sports bar meets fine dining experience as little ones run around and families enjoy their drinks after a day on the lake.
Breakfast the next morning brought us to Medina’s, a bistro in the heart of Chimney Rock Village. The cinnamon roll is the specialty of the house. Featured in Southern Living and National Geographic Traveler, this concoction is light and fluffy, not too sweet, with a cream cheese icing in the middle. We also dined on the Royal Breakfast Hash Casserole, which features corned beef, potatoes, onions, peppers, cheese, and a creamy Italian white sauce, topped off with an over-easy egg.
We had lunch at La Strada, a family-owned and operated authentic Italian restaurant that has boasted a fantastic view of Lake Lure and the surrounding mountains for more than 40 years. We enjoyed angel hair pasta with mushrooms, broccoli, and Roma tomatoes, sauteed with garlic pesto and white wine and topped with parmesan encrusted fried jumbo shrimp.
On Saturday night we went to The Esmeralda Inn and Restaurant, which provides exclusive wines and hand-crafted beers, not to mention fine dining fare and a signature duck dish. We started with the Esmeralda Rosé, a mix of vodka, rosé and elderflower syrup, with raspberry puree lemon juice and lavender foam. We loved the charcuterie board of house-made crackers; labneh, a house-made cheese; along with a local goat cheese. We split the tasty crab cakes with pimento cheese grits, and for dessert, we had the Carolina Peach Shortcake, made with local peaches served tart with fresh whipped cream.
Our last meal on Sunday was a delicious brunch at The Treetops Restaurant at The Lodge on Lake Lure. Committed to locally sourced products, including beef, the restaurant offers an amazing view. After our brunch of crab Benedict and potatoes with smoked paprika and roasted red bell pepper, we toured this beautiful getaway that features 17 luxurious guestrooms, each with a fireplace and personal veranda.
What to Do
Lake Lure is known as the setting for the 1980s blockbuster hit Dirty Dancing, and appropriately the town still hosts an annual Dirty Dancing Festival each September.
The Lake Lure Beach is open for swimming and activities Memorial Day through Labor Day; offered are boats, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. Visitors can also enjoy a specialty cruise on the lake for lunch or dinner.
For more than 100 years, Chimney Rock has been a favorite destination in the Western North Carolina mountains. It’s where another famous movie was filmed, Last of the Mohicans. At the summit of this giant monolith, the 75-mile view is spectacular. This past year, the 26-story elevator was refurbished inside the mountain and runs smoothly to the top of the “chimney.” The park also offers miles of trails for hikers of all levels. Rock climbing, complete with a two-hour clinic option, is also a popular activity, as is the guided bird walk.
Visitors to the area should not miss experiencing the Flowering Bridge. This gardener’s delight entices visitors, both domestic and international, to meander through this garden, which sits right in the middle of town. With more than 2,500 different species of plants and flowers, this labor of love is made possible by the many volunteers who lovingly plant, deadhead, and mulch each week. Featuring painted windows, painted bricks, and peanut butter trees, it also provides a smorgasbord for caterpillars and bees throughout the year as well as a native habitat for monarch butterflies.
During our walk in the village, we stopped in at Coffee on the Rocks to check out the coffees and pastries. We also dressed up in saloon attire for an old-timey photo!
A special surprise was Burntshirt Vineyards Tasting Room & Bistro in the heart of the village. Burntshirt Winery has more than 25 award-winning wines and has been named the N.C. Winery of the Year for the last five years.
Canopy Ridge Farm offers the more adventurous visitor the chance to sail through the mountain air on a zipline course or enjoy the water via guided kayak tours and tube rentals.
We headed back to Columbia and vowed to return in the fall to witness the changing leaves, enjoy some hiking, and feast on more of the fabulous food in the friendly local restaurants that make this area so special.